Douthat on religious dialogue
Ross Douthat, that New York Times’s new conservative editorial writer, has a solid take on the demands of a functional, secular, and religiously diverse state. He’s responding, for the most part, to Brit Hume’s statement about Tiger Woods’s religious beliefs and the subsequent response, which we addressed here. Hume may have been imprudent and/or inaccurate, but the overwhelming “religion is a private matter!” response, Douthat argues, needs some examination. Many believers have balked at the use of major media outlets to express religious opinions,
But these believers are colluding in their own marginalization. If you treat your faith like a hothouse flower, too vulnerable to survive in the crass world of public disputation, then you ensure that nobody will take it seriously. The idea that religion is too mysterious, too complicated or too personal to be debated on cable television just ensures that it never gets debated at all.
He outlines a preferable vision in his opening:
Liberal democracy offers religious believers a bargain. Accept, as a price of citizenship, that you may never impose your convictions on your neighbor, or use state power to compel belief. In return, you will be free to practice your own faith as you see fit — and free, as well, to compete with other believers (and nonbelievers) in the marketplace of ideas.
The idea that believers must compete in the “marketplace of ideas” is a controversial one. Many would rather that religious communities maintain a level of protected autonomy (including the right to educate children in religious schools and perhaps protection from state interference or even public criticism) and that in matters so central to their identity, others should simply stay out of it. But our moral faculties and the well-being of our religiously diverse democracy rely on open discussion of important questions. And as Douthat suggests, these are indeed important questions.